10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Boasting beautiful coastal scenery along the shores of the English Channel and the North Sea, Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the northernmost region of France bordering Belgium. The region includes two départements that correspond with historic provinces: The département of Pas-de-Calais once known as Artois and the Nord département that was French Flanders. The old province of Picardy also corresponds with parts of Pas-de-Calais as well as the département of Somme. Nord-de-Pas-de-Calais is one France's most important industrial regions, yet the area still has pastoral farming, stretches of pristine forests and marshlands, picturesque villages, and some of the finest French cathedrals. The vibrant city of Lille is the capital of French Flanders, which has retained its Flemish character. Many of the towns of Flanders have a distinctive Flemish influence (similar to the Belgian culture), and the older inhabitants still speak the Flemish language.
Known for its lively ambience and friendly people, the city of Lille is a surprisingly pleasant urban destination in northern France. Lille has a beautiful town square lined with elegant Flemish Baroque buildings including the Vieille Bourse (Old Stock Exchange). The city's Flemish influence is also seen in the hearty local cuisine, featuring typical Belgian dishes like "moules-frites" (mussels and French fries). Top tourist attractions in Lille include the renowned Palais des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), a beautiful 14th-century church, and the birthplace of General Charles de Gaulle. The city also has an interesting Neo-Gothic cathedral and an annual Flea Market that draws thousands of visitors. There are two noteworthy art museums just outside of Lille, each about 15 minutes away: Villeneuve d'Ascq has an exceptional modern art museum with works by Braque, Modigliani, and Picasso, and the town of Roubaix has a unique museum housed in the former Art Deco swimming baths.
The historic capital of the Artois province, Arras is now the chief town of the département of Pas-de-Calais. With its arcaded squares and high-gabled burghers' houses, Arras has preserved the character of an old Flemish commercial town. The Arras Cathedral, originally the abbey church of Saint-Vaast was rebuilt in the 18th century in awe-inspiring Neoclassical style. South of the church is the former abbey of Saint-Vaast that now houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts. This museum has a diverse art collection, from medieval sculptures to Dutch paintings. There are also masterpieces by Corot and Delacroix. During World War I the Arras area was the scene of heavy fighting, commemorated by many military cemeteries and memorials. The Vimy Memorial marks the spot where the final German defensive in the battle for Vimy Ridge was overcome. This piece of land was donated to Canada for the accomplishment of capturing the most heavily fortified position on the Western Front.
On the Pas-de-Calais seaside, Calais provides a gateway to England as an important seaside port and the location of the Channel Tunnel stop in France. The Channel Tunnel ride takes 20 minutes to arrive in Dover, England by high-speed train. Alternatively the Channel crossing by hovercraft takes about 40 minutes. Calais has several remarkable monuments at the center of town on the Place du Soldat-Inconnu. Here, stands the Flemish Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also on this central square are Rodin's famous group of sculptures, The Burghers of Calais commemorating the 11-month siege of the town by the English in 1348 and its subsequent occupation until 1558. Calais has an excellent Musée des Beaux Arts with a collection of paintings from Carpeaux to Roulland and from Francia to Picasso. The museum also has a wonderful lace collection.
Surrounded by a deep moat and 17th-century walls, the small village of Bergues has a typically Flemish character. Bergues is most famous for its 14th-century belfry, considered one of the finest in France. The belfry features an unusual open design and the chimes of 50 bells mark the hour. On top of the tower is a weather vane depicting the lion of the town's coat of arms and a figure of Saint Nicolas. During the Revolution, the weather vane was replaced by a Phrygian cap with a pike and a flag. Bergues also has an interesting Municipal Museum housed in the old "Mont-de-Piété" (municipal pawnshop). This museum displays paintings by Flemish and French masters and a collection of 16th- and 17th-century drawings.
France's most northerly town, Dunkerque (Dunkirk) lies on the North Sea coast near the end of the Straits of Dover, just 14 kilometers from the Belgian frontier. Dunkerque has an important commercial port as well as a ferry port for crossing to England. During the Second World War, Dunkerque was the scene of a dramatic military rescue as boats of Allied troops were brought to safety. The town is also renowned for its Musée des Beaux-Arts, which has an extensive collection of Dutch, French, and Italian paintings. Another tourist attraction is the annual Dunkirk Carnival, a lively festival of music and dancing that takes place every year in February and March.
6 Musée Louvre-Lens
In Lens, about 30 minutes from Lille, the Musée Louvre-Lens is an ultramodern museum space surrounded by a tranquil park that was once a coal mining site. The Musée Louvre-Lens does not have its own collections, instead the museum exhibits different rotations of masterpieces from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The exhibits include artwork from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the modern period. The museum's beautiful 3,000-square-meter gallery features natural lighting and an innovative presentation of artwork, in an open space without any divisions. The museum highlights the common denominators of artwork spanning different civilization and artistic styles. It's easy to get to the museum from Lille; there is an efficient shuttle that runs regularly between the two cities.
On the Liane River that flows into the Straits of Dover, Boulogne-sur-Mer is France's largest fishing port as well as a popular seaside resort. On the Grand Rue stands the church of Saint-Nicolas founded in the 13th century. The town has an impressive Palais de Justice (Law Courts) building and the wonderful Bibliothèque des Annonciades (Library) housed in a former monastic building of the 13th century. Boulogne-sur-Mer also boasts a fantastic sea museum, the Nausicaa Centre National de la Mer, with exhibits on underwater plants and animal life. The center's aquariums house more than 6,000 fish representing some 300 different species. There is also an underwater aquarium, where visitors can look at sea life through portholes, a tropical lagoon, and a jellyfish aquarium. One of Napoleon's important battles took place at Boulogne-sur-Mer, and every year, town residents wear period costumes and reconstruct a battle of Napoleon.
With its quaint cobblestone streets and flower-bedecked houses, Gerberoy is a delightful tourist destination. Gerberoy is listed as a "Plus Beaux Village de France" (one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France). There is the influence of Picardy and Normandy in Gerberoy, especially seen in the half-timbered houses. This old fortified town has many charming 17th- and 18th-century houses covered in roses. The 15th-century Collegiate Church of Saint-Pierre is a must-see landmark, which dominates the town from the ancient castle grounds. Also on the castle grounds are the Gardens of Le Sidaner, the Italian hanging garden created by the post-Impressionist painter Henri Le Sidaner. Visitors can further discover Le Sidaner's work at the Municipal Museum, which displays some of his paintings. Another famous attraction in Gerberoy is the Rose Festival that has been held in the village every year since 1928.
Douai is an old university town, originally founded by the Spaniards. The central features of the town are the Belfry and the Place d'Armes, also called the Grand Place. Douai also has a renowned museum, the Musée de la Chartreuse, with works by French and Dutch artists, including the beautiful Anchin Altar by J. Bellegambe (created between 1509 and 1513), a collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, and Gallo-Roman antiquities.
A center of fine fabric production since the 15th century, Cambrai has several interesting historic landmarks. Tourists should make a stop at the 18th-century Church of Saint-Géry to see the famous Entombment painting, a masterpiece of emotional depth and technical prowess by Rubens. Another noteworthy church is the Chapelle du Grand Séminaire with its lovely Baroque facade. Tourists will enjoy wandering around the town to see the beautiful old half-timbered houses, two impressive town gates, and a 16th-century citadel.
Nearby Attractions in the Picardy Region
Amiens is the historic capital of Picardy and now the chief town of the département of Somme. Located on important crossroads between Paris and northern France as well as Britain and Belgium, Amiens is a busy town and was long famous as a center of linen, wool, and cotton industries. The Second World War took its toll on Amiens. Fortunately, the magnificent Cathédrale Notre Dame d'Amiens was spared any damage. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals built in the 13th-century. The construction represents a classic example of French Gothic architecture, distinguished by the harmony and coherence of its interior. Visitors marvel at the intricacy of the facade. Some of the exquisite details include statues of Judah kings on the central portal, a figure of the Virgin Mary on the right-hand doorway, and the Beau Dieu d'Amiens sculpture depicting Christ giving a blessing.
The historic town of Beauvais was once an important episcopal city, and its magnificent Gothic Cathedral bears witness to the past. The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre was founded in 1227, but it was not until 1578 that the choir and transept were completed. The cathedral has the highest roof vaulting in the world, and spectacular stained-glass windows illuminate the sanctuary. The 16th-century facades of the transepts exemplify Flamboyant Gothic style. The 19th-century astronomical clock, with more than 90,000 individual parts, is a copy of the one in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Behind the cathedral is the Galerie Nationale de la Tapisserie, a museum that focuses on tapestries. Another historic church in Beauvais is the Eglise Saint-Etienne, built in the 12th and 13th centuries with some later additions. The church features exquisite Renaissance stained glass (including the Tree of Jesse) and a Romanesque rose window with an allegory of human life.
An easy day-trip from Paris, the picturesque village of Chantilly boasts a majestic château surrounded by enchanting parklands. Visitors may tour the Château de Chantilly to see the lavish bedroom and reception rooms of the Princes of Bourbon-Condé. The château's "Galerie des Livres" (Book Gallery) contains almost 13,000 rare and precious books. This library's principal treasure is the Duc de Berry's wonderfully illuminated prayer book from the 15th century. The château also houses the Musée Condé, an art museum containing works by Italian, Flemish, French, and British masters from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Highlights include masterpieces by Raphael, van Dyck, Delacroix, and Reynolds and a valuable pink diamond known as the Grand Condé. The château gardens were created in 1663 by Le Nôtre on the model of Versailles. Chantilly is also where whipped cream was invented. Here, the famous chef Vatel served Louis XIV whipped cream, which became "crème Chantilly."
At the meeting point of the Aisne and Oise Rivers and surrounded by majestic forests, Compiegne defines itself as a "royal village" because of its Imperial history. Here, French Kings and the Emperor Napoleon I have left their mark. The village has a rich culture and is known for "bon vivre" (the good life). Compiegne has several prestigious monuments, the Palais Imperial, Hôtel de Ville, and ancient churches, which stand as testimony to the regal past. The surrounding area also offers many opportunities to enjoy nature.
With a fascinating two-thousand-year history and a spectacular Gothic cathedral, the town of Noyon is a worthwhile tourist destination in the heart of Picardy. Noyon lies one hour from Paris, where the valleys of the Oise and Verse Rivers join. This pleasant town allows visitors to enjoy the idyllic natural scenery and get away from it all. The town's 12th-century cathedral was the first Gothic religious building constructed in the North of France. With its purity of lines, the cathedral has a solemnity, and at the same time, a brightness that inspires spiritual worship. The town of Noyons also has a Cistercian abbey founded in the 12th century that was a stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. Noyons was the birthplace of John Calvin, the famous Protestant reformer, and the town has a museum dedicated to his life's work and the history of Protestantism.
The landscape of Somme is the site of a significant WWI battle that took place from July to November in 1916. The region suffered severely during the First World War-from 1914 until 1918. Visitors can see the scene of the Battle of the Somme and discover the history of the war through the Circuit of Remembrance. In the town of Albert, the Musée Somme 1916 occupies the crypt beneath a basilica that was used as an aircraft shelter during the Second World War. The museum documents the history of the First World War and gives visitors a realistic insight of the battle experience with recreations of scenes showing soldiers in the trenches. The museum also has a "Gallery of Heroes" that profiles nine heroes of the Great War. Nearby, in the village of Folleville, is the UNESCO-listed Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste. This historic church was on the medieval pilgrimage "Way of Saint James" route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.